Not all that long ago, our homes were built much differently than they are today and our daily habits were almost the polar opposite of what they have become. Our modern homes have become energy efficient machines that not only keep indoor air from leaking outside, but also keep outdoor air from filtering inside. Add to this our habit of spending up to 80% of our day indoors and we’ve got a recipe for an unhealthy habit.
The amount of air it takes to completely replace the indoor air with fresh outdoor air is considered one air exchange. Just 30 to 40 years ago, a home’s air exchange rate was about 5 times in an hour. An energy efficient home only exchanges indoor air with outdoor air about once per day. This results in things like Radon, Mold Spores and other indoor allergens to stick around indoors instead of being filtered or diluted with outside air.
So how can you change this problem and reverse the effects of poor indoor air quality?
The first step is avoid the allergens and toxins that can enter into your home. However, because some of these toxins are unavoidable, the second step is to bring in fresh air whenever you can.
Moisture and water are your home’s number one enemy. And when it comes to poor indoor air quality, it can be one of the biggest contributors. Many areas and surfaces in a home are extremely porous, and hold onto any moisture that comes in contact with it. Think about carpet, drywall, wood trim, drapery and upholstery. All of these items can be very difficult to dry out if they become wet.
Once items in a home become damp, it doesn’t take long for mold and mildew to form and spread from one surface to another. Keeping indoor air fairly dry will help avoid these problems.
HOW TO MAINTAIN LOW HUMIDITY LEVELS INDOORS:
- Use windows and bathroom fans when bathing
- Avoid line drying laundry indoors
- Run kitchen fans and open windows while cooking
- Avoid over-watering plants
- Use pot lids when boiling water and cooking on a stovetop
- Use a dehumidifier if you live in a humid climate
- Avoid humidifiers and use cool mist vaporizers instead
LEAVE SHOES AT THE DOOR
Your mom may have told you to take your shoes off before coming in – and she had good reasons for this rule. Our shoes introduce our home to many toxins, pesticides, bacteria and germs from the outdoor world. Can you think of all the places your shoes went today? The grocery store, a park, public restroom? Our shoes can pick up anything that’s left on the floors of these surfaces.
Once at home, these particles can become embedded into our carpets, making them a part of our house. The particles can then become airborne when someone walks through that area or your HVAC unit kicks on. Some say vacuuming can help, but often times vacuuming only reintroduces the toxins and bacteria to the indoor air.
CREATE A PLACE TO LEAVE SHOES
The best policy is to leave shoes at the door. You can create an area for your family or guests to leave their shoes before they enter your living areas. A rug will also help trap any dirt that does come inside and keep it in the fibers. You can then take the rug outside and clean it. Leaving it in the sun for a few hours will also help kill any bacteria that is living inside it. A basket or shoe tray also works well in order to notify guest coming you’d like them to remove their shoes.
DO YOUR DUSTING
Yup, DUSTING. It’s usually the last chore that never gets done – but it will help when it comes to improving your indoor air quality. Dust particles are often made up of dander and other allergens that can become irritating to anyone indoors. Dust mites are another culprit when it comes to allergens that can aggravate respiratory irritation. Believe it or not, dust mites are in most homes, not matter how clean. Bedding, kids’ stuffed animals and upholstered furniture can be a breeding ground for dust mites. They are not only an allergen in themselves, but even after they are killed, the excrement and particles left behind from them are still just as irritating to our respiratory system and nasal passages.
The best policy is to prevent them by maintaining a fairly regular cleaning schedule. Keeping humidity levels low in your home can also help as dust mites will stop reproducing when indoor relative humidity is below 35%.
HOW TO PREVENT DUST MITES
- Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum (don’t forget to clean the filter!)
- Change your HVAC filter every few months to help filter dust and particles out of the air
- Keep humidity levels around 35% to avoid reproduction of dust mites
- Wash bedding, drapes and other textiles in hot water at least once a month
- Put stuffed animals in the dryer on the hottest setting to avoid dust mites
VENTILATE YOUR HOUSE
Bringing in fresh air can be one of your greatest assets when it comes to improving the indoor air quality of your home. Not only is indoor air typically MORE polluted, but our homes have few spots that allow for air to leak through. This means while our grandparents may have had to pay for more energy to heat or cool their homes, they also had more fresh air coming inside as well.
One of the main concerns over the past few years has been the elevation in lung cancer cases caused by deadly Radon. Radon is everywhere, but when it comes into our home, it can stick around and pool in lower spots. Radon is heavier than air and can become concentrated in basements and lower levels of homes.
With no outdoor air entering the home to dilute the Radon, anyone in the house can breathe the gas for extended periods of time, harming their lungs. Depending on the soil and how tightly a home is sealed, some houses are at a higher risk for elevated Radon levels. Testing your home with either an inexpensive test or a full time electronic monitor is a good idea. Sometimes your State Health Department will even provide you with a free test you can mail in.
HOW TO VENTILATE YOUR HOUSE MECHANICALLY AND NATURALLY
- Run vented fans in bathrooms and kitchens when these rooms are in use
- Use ceiling fans with open windows to get air moving across rooms
- Run your HVAC fan with windows open to improve the air exchange rate
- Install a Heat Ventilation Recovery System (air to air heat exchanger) to help bring in fresh air
AVOID ADDING CHEMICALS & TOXINS TO YOUR AIR
We all love a clean house, especially the smell of a freshly washed floor or counter. But often times that “fresh” smell is the scent of chemicals and irritating fragrances added to our cleaning products. Many of the cleaning products that line our store shelves don’t list the ingredients that are added in order to make them cleaners.
Because of Trade Secret laws, quite often they are not required to divulge any of the toxic chemicals and fragrances added to their solutions. Some third party companies and nonprofits have started testing these cleaning products only to find they are filled with toxins causing birth defects, developmental issues and reproductive problems in our society.
The biggest problem when it comes to using these cleaners is that quite often the particles are airborne for a period of time as they are sprayed onto a surface. More often than not, we then wipe the surface with a paper towel, which never removes the solution completely. Another offender when it comes to added chemicals and toxins is in the laundry. Once the detergent or softener is in our clothing, bedding or towels, it enters are air often and throughout our house.
The best policy is to avoid using chemical cleaners all together and eliminate the potential for adding toxins into your home’s air. The second best way to protect your home is by making sure any area you are cleaning is properly ventilated before using any sort of cleaner.
HOW TO AVOID CHEMICAL CLEANERS
- Make your own non-toxic cleaning products
- Check your products on a third party website like the Environmental Working Group
- Properly ventilate any area you will be cleaning
- Use natural products like essential oils for day to day cleaning
We spend the majority of our day and night indoors without much fresh air entering our houses. Keeping the indoor air free from biological toxins such a mold, allergens and chemical toxins will help maintain a healthy living space within our homes. A healthy indoor environment is the building block for a healthy life.